PL Sunday preview: Chelsea host Arsenal; Rooney returns to OT

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Gigantic top-four implications in game no. 1, and a “real legend” returns to his old haunt in game no. 2 — Sunday’s slate of Premier League fixtures are nothing short of must-see TV.

[ PL ROUNDUP: Man City unstoppable; Liverpool, Spurs held ]

Chelsea vs. Arsenal — 8:30 a.m. ET, on CNBC and NBCSports.com

This is Arsenal’s new reality, six times minimum this season: Thursday night Europa League, followed by an even greater challenge, PL opposition, less than 72 hours later. Suffice to say, much rides on Arsene Wenger‘s side re-establishing themselves as a Champions League club next season. Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge, where the Gunners will take on the defending champions in fine form (three straight wins after an opening-day defeat), is the type of game in which they’ve squandered what might be seen as “bonus” points in recent seasons.

Sunday could also see the return of Eden Hazard to the starting lineup, quite an untimely occurrence from Arsenal’s vantage point. After playing the final 30 minutes of Tuesday’s CL thrashing of Qarabag, the Belgian superstar is nearing full fitness after three months on the sideline due to a broken ankle suffered in early June.

“For sure he’s improving,” Conte said. “Having this patience with him is paying off. He is very close to being totally fit. We have to continue in this way. I have to make the best decision for the team and the players, but he is improving a lot and is very close to being 100 percent fit.”

INJURIES: Chelsea — OUT: Danny Drinkwater (calf) | Arsenal — OUT: Francis Coquelin (hamstring), Santi Cazorla (achilles); PROBABLE: Aaron Ramsey (knock), Mesut Ozil (knock)

[ MORE: Guardiola salutes Aguero’s brilliance, but has one complaint ]

Manchester United vs. Everton — 11 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Not only does Sunday’s meeting between Manchester United and Everton mark the return of Wayne Rooney to Old Trafford, the arena in which he thrilled and dazzled for 13 years, but also Romelu Lukaku‘s first clash with his former club following his $97-million transfer this summer. Familiarity (typically) breeds contempt, though Sunday should prove a joyous reunion for so many familiar faces.

After essentially swapping frontmen in the summer, the start of the 2017-18 season has produced drastically different sets of results for Man United and Everton. Take, for example, Toffees boss Ronald Koeman, who’s already feeling a bit of pressure after spending nearly $180 million this summer.

“It is not the time or the place to criticize the players,” Koeman said. “I have to criticize myself because the team was not prepared. It is a big lesson. I thought that was happening after the third goal against Tottenham at the weekend but I need to ask myself the question what I did wrong.”

As for Jose Mourinho’s men, for the first time since the Portuguese took over last summer, all is well at Old Trafford. Back in the CL (where they’re flying high) and battling with Chelsea and Manchester City in the race for the PL title, last week’s 2-2 draw away to Stoke City is the still-young season’s only blemish. Lukaku has already paid off in the form of five goals (four in the PL), while the youthful duo of Anthony Martial (21 years old) and Marcus Rashford (19) each have a pair of PL goals to their name. United, along with no one other than Man City, have conceded just twice this season.

INJURIES: Man United — OUT: Paul Pogba (hamstring), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (knee), Luke Shaw (fitness), Marcos Rojo (knee) | Everton — OUT: Ross Barkley (back), Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Seamus Coleman (leg), James McCarthy (knee), Yannick Bolasie (knee)

Nantes pays tribute to the late Sala with special jersey

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NANTES, France (AP) French club Nantes will pay tribute to late Argentine player Emiliano Sala by wearing a special blue and white shirt during Sunday’s league game gainst Bordeaux.

Nantes, which traditionally plays in yellow and green, said Tuesday that the commemorative outfit is available for sale. All profits from the sales will be allocated to Sala’s training clubs in Argentina.

“Because he dreamed of wearing Argentina’s shirt, Nantes players will leave their usual yellow and green jersey for a white and blue tunic,” Nantes said in a statement.

Sala was killed a year ago when the single-engine aircraft carrying him from Nantes to his new club in Cardiff crashed near the Channel Island of Guernsey on Jan. 21. Hours earlier, FIFA had received an online document from the Welsh soccer federation to complete transferring the player’s registration from France.

Sala’s body was recovered from the wreckage two weeks later.

Nantes said a picture of Sala will also be displayed in the center circle at Stade de La Beaujoire and a minute’s applause will be held in his memory.

Since Sala’s death, Nantes and Cardiff have been involved in a dispute over transfer fee payments. Last year, Cardiff filed a court appeal seeking to overturn a FIFA order it must pay Nantes a 6 million euro ($6.7 million) first payment for Sala. FIFA ruled in favor of Nantes and warned Cardiff it faces a transfer ban of three trading windows if it refuses to pay when the case is settled.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Bentaleb joins Newcastle; Blades sign Robinson; Campana to Wolves

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Three Premier League clubs made signings on Tuesday as Nabil Bentaleb has joined Newcastle United, Leonardo Campana has arrived at Wolves and Jack Robinson has signed for Sheffield United.

Bentaleb, 25, has initially joined Newcastle from Schalke on loan with an option to make the deal a permanent one at the end of the season.

The former Tottenham midfielder will add extra quality to the engine room as Steve Bruce‘s side continue to sit pretty in midtable despite a laundry list of injuries to deal with.

“I’m very happy to come back to the Premier League, especially with a club such as Newcastle,” Bentaleb said. “The project really interested me. I wanted absolutely to come back to the Premier League. The coach had some trust in me and the club also – I saw that straight away – and I think it’s the perfect move for me.”

Bentaleb has so much promise and showed that as a youngster for Spurs and for Algeria at the 2014 World Cup and he was a regular at Schalke over the past few seasons before falling out of favor during the 2019-20 campaign as he is yet to make an appearance due to suffering a torn meniscus in September.

Wolves have been trying to complete the deal for Campana for some time but everything is now sealed for the Ecuador international to arrive in the Premier League.

Campana, 19, has been a star for Ecuador at youth international level and he’s signed a three-and-a-half year deal with Wolves to become the understudy to Raul Jimenez. He rose to prominence at the South American U20 Championships last summer as the top goalscorer at the tournament as Ecuador won the title. He has already graduated to the full national team and he is ready to get going in England.

“I am excited about the work the team has achieved this season. I know they support each other, their relationship with the manager is a good one and I know all the players get along really well. That motivated me to come here and to be part of this big family,” Campana said.

As for Robinson, 26, he arrives on a two-and-a-half year contract from Forest for an undisclosed deal as Blades boss Chris Wilder revealed he tried to sign the left-sided center back when he previously played for QPR.

“It’s a big confidence boost coming somewhere you know you’re wanted,” Robinson said. “The gaffer has done an unbelievable job over the last 3 years and I’m really excited to play under him. It’s a privilege to sign here, excited to be back in the Premier League I’m ready to show the fans why the gaffer has signed me.” 

Robinson, a Liverpool academy product who made his debut for them as a 16-year-old, will be one of Wilder’s three center backs and is keen to perform the overlapping role in Sheffield United’s quirky but hugely effective system.

Both of the signings are fairly prudent ones but bolster squads which need it after fine starts to the season as both Wilder and Bruce need extra players as they aim to push for at least a top 10 finish in the Premier League.

Mourinho denies bust-up with Rose

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Jose Mourinho has denied he has had a training ground bust-up with left back Danny Rose.

Reports had circulated that Rose and Mourinho were involved in a heated argument in training on Monday after the England left back was unhappy to be left out of the squad for the 0-0 draw at Watford on Saturday.

Mourinho had said that Rose was out injured with a back problem but the left back has since denied he wasn’t fit to play against the Hornets.

Speaking to the media ahead of Spurs’ home game against Norwich on Wednesday (Watch live, 2:30 p.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mourinho wasn’t having any of it.

“I don’t know what you mean by tension in the air, I don’t have a problem with him,” Mourinho said. “On the Thursday before Watford late evening I got a call from my medical staff saying that Danny was calling them with a problem in his back and he wouldn’t train the next day. Friday it was a bit of a surprise to see him training, but even so I decided to play with (Japhet) Tanganga and have Ryan (Sessegnon) on the bench. That is the situation.”

Mourinho added that Rose’s display against Liverpool was “not phenomenal” and reading between the lines, he was dropped.

If there wasn’t an incident or at least some anger between Rose and Mourinho, why would reports of this nature surface?

With youngster Japhet Tanganga starting at left back for Tottenham, and doing a very good job as Mourinho praised him afterwards, it is understandable that Rose would have his nose put out of joint a little.

The England international has less than 18 months left on his current contract at Spurs and has already spoken publicly about his plans to run down that deal as chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t offered him a new deal.

It will be intriguing to see how this plays out as Tanganga now seems to be Spurs’ first choice left back and Rose will have to be happy with playing a bit-part role between now and the end of the season.

His experience and quality is undoubted but with Spurs’ defensive unit all over the place this season, Mourinho is well within his rights to mix things up with formations and personnel as he tries to make Tottenham tough to beat.

Solskjaer: United have made “strides forward”

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Ole Gunnaer Solskjaer believes his Manchester United side have taken “strides forward” following their 2-0 defeat at bitter rivals Liverpool on Sunday.

United were outplayed for the vats majority of the game and were lucky to be only 1-0 down heading into the 90th minute but the grit and determination they showed impressed Solskjaer who lauded his young team.

Without the injured star duo of Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba for the daunting trip to the Premier League leaders, United’s manager was in a positive mood ahead of their clash against Burnley on Wednesday (Watch live, 3:15 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

“We lost to Liverpool. A team that you all say are fantastic and we’ve been in the game until the last kick of the ball. For me, that’s strides forward,” Solskjaer said. “Of course we’re disappointed about losing the game. We don’t want to be behind them in the league. But there are signs there that we’re on the right track, definitely.”

Is Solskjaer’s positivity misplaced?

Some would argue that United were lucky that Liverpool’s finishing was lackluster and that is true but the Red Devils hung in there and should have equalized in the second half but Anthony Martial blazed over.

They were missing at least four or five players in key areas for the trip to United as Rashford, Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured and they badly need another attacking midfielder (ahem, Bruno Fernandes) to help with their play in the final third.

Solskjaer is right, there were positives for United. Fred played extremely well in midfield and both Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka stood tall defensively out wide. But the main takeaway from their trip to Liverpool was that United were delighted to not lose by three or four goals. The gulf in class between the two teams was clear for all to see and although United are trying to sort out their disjointed and confused squad by signing young, talented players, they are so far off Liverpool it is scary.